Harrison Hot Springs council members will be asking the province to take a “more proactive approach” in assessing the risks of wildfire smoke, after a summer of heavy smoke saw fewer visitors at the resort town.
“I’ve heard the expectation this year is going to be another rough wildfire season,” councillor Michie Vidal said Monday (March 4).
“I think this resolution is very timely.”
Councillor Samantha Piper first brought forward the idea at the Feb. 19 meeting, after council received the village’s newest community wildfire protection plan.
The report was designed to help define and mitigate threats to Harrison Hot Springs because of wildfires, which have been increasingly severe in the past few years.
Although the report largely focused on risks associated with fire, it also discussed potential problems coming from wildfire smoke, which was the basis of council’s motion Monday.
The motion asks the province to do better at assessing the risks of being exposed to wildfire smoke, and to create decision-making tools to assist communities in determining what measures can be taken to mitigate those risks.
It’s not totally clear what those tools would look like, although a staff report said the measures to mitigate risks could be “up to and including evacuation.”
The motion notes that wildfire smoke negatively impacts public health, the ability of visitors and residents to enjoy the natural beauty of Harrison Hot Springs, and has a negative effect on the economics of the community.
This has been a concern of council for some time now, especially because of the potential economic consequences for the resort municipality.
“It’s true, it does impact health, it does impact our ability to enjoy, but fire season really impacts hugely on our economy,” councillor Gerry Palmer said.
“The effects on small businesses are huge.”
Council has said a number of times this year that the summer smoke created a decrease in summer visitors.
Although there is no direct causation between low visitor numbers and increased wildfire smoke, Harrison Hot Springs did see lower pay parking revenues in 2018 than previous years.
During the March 4 council meeting, Harrison council members voted to bring their motion to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association AGM this May, to give other communities a chance to comment.
If the motion is accepted at LMLGA, it will go to the Union of B.C. Municipalities AGM in the fall.